Archive for the 'Digital Photography' Category

My first photo books available for pre-pre-order

Sunday, December 9th, 2012

I have been working on producing a book of my photography for several years now. Organizing and curating your own work is a tough task of critical self-examination, second guessing, and pattern recognition. In the end I actually have three collections of photos centered on three themes. The titles are:

  1. Motion and Distortion
  2. Reflection and Distraction
  3. Isolation and Repetition
Each hard cover book is 32 pages and is divided into 2 chapters. I have written an intro poem for each chapter. The books each contain 29 of what I consider to be my best photos over the last 15 years of experiments, accidents, and triumphs. If you are a reader of this blog then you can appreciate the assortment of cameras I use in my work, from pinhole to handmade to antique. Needless to say, I am proud of the work and I hope you are interested in ordering a set for yourself.

Which brings me to the part where I tell you how to order the books. The books are ready to be published. Right now they are printed digitally, which is less than economical. If I can connect with a publisher I can get the price down, but right now the set of 3 books will cost $165. If you are interested in ordering a book please contact me. Let me know if you would like to order the first pre-edition of the book or are interested in being notified when the first real run of books is available. I really appreciate your support. For a few more photos of the books, click here.

Panoramic Photography

Sunday, September 27th, 2009


I have been experimenting with panoramic photography for the last few weeks and I wanted to share some of the things I have learned and offer some tips for anyone wanting to learn how to take panoramic photos. This isn’t a comprehensive panorama tutorial, but it should cover the basics and point you in the direction of panoramic websites where you can learn more.

stereo_test_fused_300.jpgPanoramic photography can be breathtaking. Even really wide angle lenses can’t come close to showing the range of view that you can get with a true panorama. The shot at the top of this page shows a 360 degree panoramic shot. Another method is to take a 360 degree shot by 180 degrees that results in a complete view of your surroundings. Once you have a 360×180 image there are some really interesting things you can do with them. For example, the shot to the right demonstrates a stereographic projection that is created from a panorama. Anther applications for a panorama include Quicktime VR’s which allow you to scroll up, down, and around the image as if you were standing in that spot. So how do you create panoramic photos?

Step 1: Taking the Photos

The first thing you need to know about panoramic photography is that it usually involves taking multiple photos and “stitching” them together into a single shot. While there are expensive cameras with swinging lenses, most panorama photos are made with ordinary cameras. You take lots of photos until you have taken a photo of your complete surroundings. Rather than just going crazy shooting photos in every direction it is a good idea to use a system that will make it easy to assemble the photos later.

In order to improve your chances of having images that will work optimally for stitching together you should definitely consider purchasing a high quality tripod. It is possible to hand hold your camera, but this really increases your chances of having images that don’t stitch together nicely. A normal tripod should work well for single row 360 degree shots. If you are taking multiple row, 360×180 shots you should consider purchasing a panoramic head.

A panoramic tripod head will allow you to move your camera in specific increments until you have completed the full 360. Each photo you take should overlap the shot you took previously. The overlap is important because this redundant data is what the software will use to stitch the photos together later. With my Panasonic Lumix LX3 (which has a pretty wide lens) I can capture a 360×180 degree image by taking 38 photos. That translates into 3 rows of 12 images and a photo for the ground and another photo of the sky straight above. I use the markings on my tripod to know how to turn the camera 30 degrees.

A panoramic tripod head can be an expensive investment. The Nodal Ninja tripod heads get great praise, but they are cost hundreds of dollars. A cheaper option is the Panosaurus that costs about $80. If you are the do-it-yourself type like me, you can build your own. I had some old tripod parts lying around so I decided to build my own panoramic tripod head.

The photo below shows my DIY panoramic tripod head.


This looks intimidating, but once you understand how a panoramic head works it isn’t that bad. The purpose of the head is to position your camera so that the “nodal point” of the camera stays in the same place no matter which direction the camera is pointing. What is a nodal point you ask? You can read the technical definition on wikipedia, but in general terms, this is the point of the camera lens that your camera will rotate around to produce images that aren’t distorted. If you simply rotate a normal tripod the nodal point will be different for each shot causing distortion. You can find the nodal point of your lens following the tutorial here. Don’t obsess over this, because as long as you are close you should be in good shape. Most likely, the nodal point of your camera is towards the front of the lens. There is a good thread on Flickr where you can see a bunch of DIY panoramic tripod heads that should give you some inspiration.

Step 2: Stitching the Photos Together

Once you have the photos taken it is time to create the panorama. Stitching multiple photos together presents some challenges. First of all you need some software. I use Hugin because it is free and has some advanced features. I haven’t used any of the other panorama photo stitcher software options out there, but search the internet and you should be able to see some of the other options out there.

Before you commit to learning Hugin, I should warn you that it wasn’t very easy to get it working for me. I am on a Mac running Snow Leopard and it took some work getting it installed and running. I ended up using MacPorts to help install the autopano-sift-c software required to run Hugin.

Once I had Hugin installed, learning Hugin presented its own challenges. I am the kind of person that jumps right into software without much training, so if you follow some tutorials online you might pick it up quicker than I did. Check out the Hugin Flickr group for additional info.

I hope this post was enough to get you interested in panoramic photography. There are plenty of great resources online if you are looking for more information. My advice would be to join Flickr and plug in to the many groups and passionate users creating panoramic images. There are lots of tutorials on Flickr and most people are more than willing to help out other photographers. Good luck!

6 Non-Traditional ways to use a Panasonic Lumix LX3

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

As you probably know I love pinhole cameras, antiques, hacked and modified cameras, and pretty much anything except for flawless image making devices. I like the chaos and the chance of photography. That’s where the excitement is for me. I am not interested in perfectly exposed, perfectly boring photos. So it may come as a surprise to you that the newest camera in my collection is a digital point-and-shoot. I recently purchased a Panasonic Lumix LX3 and I really love it.

There are plenty of articles online praising the technical prowess of this camera praising it as a point-and-shoot that can compete with an SLR. The only other camera that might give the LX a run for its money is the Canon G10. So rather than rehash the technical specs of the Panasonic Lumix LX3 I thought I would throw out some ideas that might get you thinking how to “hack” this camera to create non-traditional digital photos. If you have some ideas of your own, please add them in the comments.

1. Long Exposures Switch the Panasonic Lumix LX3 over to manual mode and you can control the shutter speed. Try it at night, or in situations where a long exposure can give you unexpected results.

2. Multiple Exposures The Panasonic Lumix LX3 allows you to create multiple exposures in camera. You have to scroll through some menus to get to this setting, but it can give you some really fun and interesting results.

3. Street photography The LX3 is small and quiet so it is a great camera for street photography. Some times I like to “shoot from the hip” and take photos by just pointing the camera in someone’s general direction and snapping a shot. Every once in a while this technique can create some real gems.

4. Manual Focus You paid good money for the fancy focusing technology of the Panasonic Lumix LX3, but why not turn it off? The manual focus of this camera is another way to get back to basics with your camera. Or add some creative blur to your shots.

5. Macro It’s amazing how much things change when you get really close to them. The macro ability of the Panasonic LX3 is pretty impressive and opens a whole new world of possibilities.

6. Black and white I find that unless color really adds something to a photo, I typically prefer the image in black and white. Why not save yourself the trouble of converting to black and white in Photoshop later and shoot in black and white mode. Another advantage of shooting in b&w is that it puts you in a different mind set. I feel like I am looking at the world differently when I have black and white film in my camera.

I hope you found these ideas inspiring. As always, follow me on Flickr if you are curious about what my latest work.

Here are some of the auctions for Panasonic Lumix LX3 cameras and accessories on Ebay that you might be interested in:

Eye-Fi: The Wireless Memory Card

Sunday, December 7th, 2008

card-home-reflect.gifI am working on my review of my new Panasonic Lumix LX3 digital camera, but in the meantime I wanted to tell you about the Eye-Fi memory card. If you have never heard of it, it is your typical SD memory card with one amazing feature. It has the ability to wirelessly transfer your photos from your camera to your computer or websites like Flickr. Don’t ask me how it works, I have no idea how they pack a wireless transceiver into a card that small. All I know is it works like a champ and I love it.

After setting up my Eye-Fi card I have literally never had to plug my camera into my computer again. Just by turning my camera on the card will detect my wireless network and start transferring photos. I don’t have to carry cords around with me. I have it set to send photos to my Flickr account as well as iPhoto. You can set it up do that the photos are private when they go to Flickr which is nice so people never have to see your junk shots. Then you can go back into Flickr and name, tag, and organize your photos before making them “live.”

More than likely, the next round of digital cameras will all have wireless capabilities built it. If I had to make a guess I suspect wireless will probably be the next “buzz” feature for consumer cameras. With the Eye-Fi card you can turn your camera into a wireless machine instantly. Visit the Eye-Fi website to learn more.

Here are some of the Eye-Fi auctions on Ebay that you might be interested in:

Book Giveaway: Fundamentals of Photography by Tom Ang

Wednesday, November 19th, 2008

Fundamentals_of_photography.jpgThe endless debates about whether “film is dead” or “digital sucks” are fine for late night debates and chat room rants, but anyone really serious about making pictures isn’t served by picking sides in a pointless war. Fundamentals of Photography: The Essential Handbook for Both Digital and Film Cameras is a new book by Tom Ang that puts an emphasis on “digital and film cameras.” Rather than picking a side in the pointless battle between digital and film users, this book gives practical advice that any photographer can benefit from.

When it comes right down to it you need a practical manual if you want to take better pictures. You need a book that you can turn to when you want to know “how did they do that?” Whether you are learning the fundamentals for the first time or are just looking to expand on what you already know, a browse through this book can’t help but improve your photos. Your photos will improve when you understand light better. It will improve when you understand how your camera works. It will improve when you learn the history as well as the latest advancements. It will improve when you know what to do with your image after you take the picture. All these things are covered in this book and it is written in easy to understand language.

In many ways, this is a book that couldn’t have been written five years ago. The digital revolution has been a whirlwind and I think we are just finally starting to understand the implications. Digital isn’t something to rebel against, and film isn’t something to throw out the window.

Being the kind of person who would rather hack together pieces of old cameras than baby an expensive piece of machinery, you may be surprised that I would endorse a traditional kind of book that focuses on the fundamentals of photography. Actually, I find an easy-toiread manual really inspiring. A firm grasp of the basics is essential before you can improvise and dance. The Fundamentals of Photography is a welcome addition to my photo library and I recommend you pick it up. It’s available from Amazon for about $17.

Also, I have a copy of the book to give away. Leave your name in the comments of this post and I will randomly pick a winner at the end of November. Just make sure to put a real email address in the comment form and I will contact the winner at the end of December. To make it a little more interesting, tell us what kind of camera you are learning with or what camera you learned the fundamentals of photography with. Mine was a Pentax K1000. What was your’s?

UPDATE: Congratulations to Amod Rahatkar, winner of the drawing for this book!

Here are some of the auctions on Ebay for photography books that you might be interested in:

Photo Skepticism: Friend or Foe?

Tuesday, February 26th, 2008

The latest news photo hoax has me thinking about authenticity in photography again. In the most recent case, a chinese man doctors an image of a train and a bunch of antelopes. You can read the article to get the full story, but the image they show explaining how the fake was spotted is pretty interesting. I expected evidence such as cloned animals or something much more obvious. For example, one explanation depends on an antelope that kind of looks pregnant. Another says that the antelope would be more scattered if they were running from a train. One explanation is just flat wrong. It says that the train should be blurred and the antelope should be more in focus because the train is going 60 mph and the antelope are running slower. This explanation doesn’t hold up because the train is several hundred meters away. The antelope may not be going 60 mph but I bet their legs are and they are closer to the camera. I am not saying that the photo is real, but can’t we get an explanation that holds up to scrutiny?


Luckly, there are real professionals working to scientifically disprove the authenticity of photographs. There is an interesting article on that talks about methods that companies like Adobe are developing to spot altered photos. Adobe seems like the last company you would turn to lead the hunt for photo hoaxers considering they have made a fortune off of convincing everybody how easy/safe/fun it is to enhance and manipulate our photographs. Nevertheless, as the industry leader in photo manipulation they have to address a growing concern about the authenticity of photography. So Adobe finds itself in an interesting conundrum. How do you use a technology that is meant to alter photography to identify the people who are creating hoaxes? Where does harmless photo enhancement end and illegal photo manipulation begin? How do you convince a skeptical population to trust photography as the truth? They have a quote from Kevin Connor, who is senior director of product management at Adobe. He says,

“There’s much more awareness and much more skepticism when (people) are looking at images. That’s why we think that’s something we need to get involved in. It’s not healthy to have people be too skeptical about what they saw.”

Not healthy to question what you see? That is a shocking statement when you consider what he is implying, that it is healthy to accept what you see as real without questioning. Yikes! The article closes without really giving much hope that there will ever be a trustworthy way of telling whether or not a photo has been altered. While that may seem like a tragedy, it is a side effect of an advancing civilization. Think about the past when photos represented the “truth.” That was a more dangerous time because it ignored the editorial nature of photography. Think of all the manipulation that happens to an image in camera. Somebody has to pick the subject matter. The photographer isn’t an emotionless bystander. He composes his shot with an agenda. He choses the exposure and controls the focus. These are editorial decisions. You can make the same old lady look like a saint or a witch just by how you choose to take her picture. To accept an image as “truth” regardless of how it was originated is dangerous. Defense attorneys, law enforcement, news organizations, protective governments, conspiracy theorists, traditionalists and photography purists will continue to find ways authenticate and de-authenticate photos. I can’t blame them, but I firmly believe that a skeptical population is a better alternative to blind unquestioning masses.

The Future of Photography on the Web

Tuesday, July 24th, 2007

A friend brought this video to my attention and if you haven’t seen it you should check it out. It really makes the future of photography on the web seem limitless…

Your Photoshop Comfort Level

Saturday, March 24th, 2007

I think each photographer has to decide for themselves how heavy they want to be when it comes to editing their photos in Photoshop. It would be silly to think that there is an absolute “right” and “wrong” when it comes to this decision, but hopefully we can all agree that we should at least be honest about how much manipulation was involved in the final image. With that being said, I would like to recommend that if you have a photo blog you take a little time to explain to people how you use Photoshop. I will go first:

For photos that come from my digital camera, I try to do as little Photoshop as possible. The first manipulation comes when I convert the photo from Raw format. Ideally, I would be able to get the perfect shot right after that conversion, but that is rarely the case. Usually I tweak the curves and sometimes so some minor dodging and burning.

When I get a photo from scanning a negative, I usually do a little more work due to the scratches and dust that inevitably gets introduced. Below you will see a typical example of the extent of my digital correction. The before and after shows the raw scan and the corrected final. You can see the curve tweaks, some burning and dodging, dust removal, scratch correction, and the ever so slight sepia introduction.


If I were to make the rules, I would put it this way: Digital manipulation should never introduce anything that isn’t in the original image. The goal should always be towards enhancing what is already there without destroying the integrity of the raw image. Without this basic commitment to truthful representation a photographer is little more than a liar, and that hurts all of us.

How To Build a Digital Pinhole Camera (Update)

Thursday, March 8th, 2007

Before I was known as “the guy who makes pinhole cameras out of Legos” I was experimenting with making digital pinhole cameras. The easy way to do this is to replace the lens of a digital SLR with a pinhole body cap, but the hard way is to make a camera obscura in a box and use a digital camera to take a picture of the pinhole’s “projection.”

I was impressed when a computer crowd took note of my work, and now it looks like some science guys are having fun with my ideas, too. The Science Buddies website has taken my concept and tutorial and expanded it into a step-by-step tutorial perfect for a science fair project. Cool! When I was in grade school I remember the years alternating between science fairs and art fairs. I dreaded the science years and loved the art years, so I think it is great that I can finally contribute something to “the other side.” I even got an email from a student who tackled this project and got an “A” on the assignment. My sixth grade teacher Mrs. Luedloff would be proud of me.

If you are interested in pinhole photography, Ebay might be a good place to find a starter pinhole camera. Here are the pinhole camera auctions going on right now:

Sony Ericsson w810i

Saturday, December 30th, 2006


The Hanft family finally joined the rest of the world and got cell phones. I guess I should say I joined the rest of the world since Betsy has had a cell phone for years now. I did my research before making my purchase and wanted to get a good camera phone. I decided on the Sony Ericsson w810i. In addition to one of the best mp3 players on the market, this phone has (by cell phone standards) a terrific camera built in.

At two megapixels, the Sony Ericsson w810i may be at the low end of the camera market, but it is at the high end of the phone market. Two megapixels translates to about a 5×7 print at 300dpi, and you could probably stretch it to 8×10 if you really needed a big print. As you can imagine, you have to accept some limitations with a camera in a phone, but I have to say that I was impressed beyond my low expectations. In low light it was somewhat grainy, but still acceptable. In macro situations in performs wonderfully. The lens is a bit too wide so you have to get in close if you want your subject to fill the frame.

The camera is actully pretty full of features. It has auto focus, a self-portrait mirror, a light, self-timer, macro mode, effects (black and white, sepia, negative, solarize), white balance, different shutter sounds, and white balance. It has video mode for small video. It uses a removable memory card. I use a 4gb card (mainly for music storage) so there is plenty of room for photos. You can even change the shutter sound if you want a different click.

One fun feature of this camera is panoramic mode. Unlike the crappy cropping panoramic cameras of the past, this feature actually requires you to take three photos and the camera will stitch them together for you. Here is a quick example:


This is my basement, and the camera is hand held in this low light situation. You can see the slight double image at the one third mark next to the camera case due to me not lining up the second shot with the camera’s preview of the first image. You can click on the image above for a full resolution version. I didn’t correct anything, so this gives you an idea of what you will get straight out of the phone.

The biggest benefit of having this camera phone is that you always have a camera with you. The picture quality of most phone cameras is almost worthless, so if you plan on using the photos taken on your camera, get something decent. Right now the Sony Ericsson w810i is one of the best on the market.

Here are some of the auctions on Ebay for Sony Ericsson s810i that you might be interested in: